For 2011, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has intensified its efforts in cleaning up major river systems nationwide, including Manila Bay in compliance with the directive of the Supreme Court to bring back the bay’s water quality.

“More than a third of all illnesses in the country can be traced to polluted water. Many of our rivers are dead or barely meet the standards, and water bodies are polluted from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources. It is therefore imperative to implement our strategies to improve the quality of our water resources so that they can be optimally beneficial to all Filipinos,” said Paje.

Foremost in the clean water agenda was compliance to the writ of continuing mandamus issued by the Supreme Court in December 2008. The writ directed 13 government agencies led by the DENR to clean up Manila Bay and ensure that its waters are fit for human contact activities such as swimming. The agency has since conducted regular meetings and monitoring activities in the Central Luzon, CALABARZON and National Capital Regions.

Realizing that most of the pollution in the bay came from its tributaries, the DENR then initiated the “Adopt-an-Estero” program along with partners from the business and academic sectors and other stakeholders. To date, the agency, together with surrounding local government units (LGUs), has forged 12 Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs) for the cleanup of esteros or creeks, rivers and other waterways in Metro Manila.

The program’s success further enabled its successful replication nationwide, bringing the total number of signed MOAs to 250 in almost 15 months since it was first implemented. Paje attributed this to increased awareness and advocacy among stakeholders. “We are particularly grateful that the private sector has been keen on helping us engage in this Herculean task. We cannot keep on cleaning Manila Bay if all the waterways that lead to it are not cleaned up,” he said.

With rivers as an important water resource for food, irrigation, recreation, transportation or other purposes, the DENR continuously monitors 19 priority rivers in nine regions throughout the country. Focus was given on the cleanup of the Marilao-Meycauayan-Obando (MMO) river system in Bulacan, drawing up a 10-year rehabilitation plan approved by concerned LGUs and other national agencies for what has been tagged as one of the world’s 30 dirtiest rivers.

The MMO river system is also one of seven water quality management areas (WQMAs) designated by the DENR in the country. The other six are areas within the Laguna Lake Development Authority’s jurisdiction; the recently-designated Sinocalan-Dagupan river system in Pangasinan; the Tigum-Aganan watershed and Iloilo-Batiano river system in Visayas; and the Silway River and Saranggani Bay in Mindanao. WQMAs are designated so that the DENR and stakeholders can better address issues on water quality and pollution sources, and implement corresponding control measures to improve a particular water body.

Seventy priority bathing beaches that dot the country’s coasts were also regularly monitored to ensure that they are safe and fit for swimming and remain some of the country’s top draws to foreign and domestic tourists. These include the world-famous Boracay island, which has 23 monitoring stations distributed around the island.

To ensure the availability of clean water, the DENR has also issued Certificates of Public Convenience (CPC) to 558 utility operators serving 376,355 connections or households through subdivision developers, water cooperatives, LGUs, ship handlers and the like.

With policy formulation and implementation as one of its core functions, and in keeping with the provisions of Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004, the DENR has also begun to implement the standard compliance inspection protocol with regard to water quality management, as provided under Memorandum Circular No. 2010-05 which issued the Operations Manual for Compliance Inspection.

As Paje stressed, “Water is a very basic need. Therefore, like the air that we breathe, the quality of water that we use whether for our necessities or for recreation should be the same regardless of social status.”